The Office of Strategic Services, America’s daring World War II-era clandestine operation/spy agency, along with organizations such as Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), set a precedent for taking “high risk, high gain” to a new level. The men and women of the OSS were chosen for their propensity for taking risks to achieve success. Some were captured and some died in their undertakings, both in training and in the real world, but the sacrifices they made ensured that the job was accomplished and the Allies were victorious. The hard choice for the right reason was how they lived. In “Beyond Repair,” CIA veteran and author Charles Faddis opines that not only should the Agency rediscover her roots in the OSS, but it should be scrapped altogether and re-formed as a modern-day version of it.
The book is a few years old—first published in October 2011—but to Faddis and many like him, the message is just as relevant today. Like other “this is busted and this is how we can fix it” books, Faddis offers examples and anecdotes, taking aim at career-rocket station chiefs who let their junior officers take the blame for everything; the reluctance on the part of those in authority to hire, promote, and retain officers who take risk and understand leadership; and even policymakers and senior officials who are willing to jeopardize the mission and risk lives and U.S. national security in order to avoid diplomatic flaps.
Also, like other books, Faddis stresses that “Beyond Repair” is not an attack on the men and women of the now and former Directorate of Operations, or DO (and in-between, the national Clandestine Service), noting that not only do they not do the job for money or recognition, but they take it on because they recognize that “monsters” do exist in the world, and that someone must be willing to stand up to them. Faddis knows about service, having been an Army combat arms and JAG officer before serving over 20 years as a case officer (today’s operations officer, OO) with the Central Intelligence Agency.
He also makes it clear that in no way is he arguing against the existence of a centralized U.S. HUMINT (human intelligence) collection apparatus. He recognizes that, whether by design or shortcoming, the time gap between the emergence of a threat and its recognition by intelligence agencies has drastically widened and that the world is paying the price for it. Finally, he believes that the Agency—more specifically, the DO—is damaged and that simply “fixing” it won’t help, it must be replaced. Now.
That replacement, in Faddis’ opinion, should be modeled closely on the OSS, and he believes the men and women chosen to lead and operate it should do so based on the qualities that follow those of OSS founder and special operations legend William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Donovan was a distinguished indivual and former Army lieutenant colonel (posthumously promoted to general) who embodied the spirit of the OSS—the spirit Faddis believes the CIA has lost. He is the only American to have received our nation’s four highest awards: the Medal of Honor (won during WWI), the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. He also served as ambassador to Thailand and took part in the post-WWII Nuremberg trials. Faddis believes that this sense of duty to country and to the mission are lacking at the CIA but can be regained through an OSS-type reorganization.
I have to say that I agree with many of the aspects of the book, and the direction that Faddis believes the Agency should go. One of the main things I liked about the book was the fact that Faddis talks to the reader from a “regular guy” perspective, allowing someone who knows little or nothing about intelligence operations to better understand the terminology. Second, and just as important to me, Faddis does not make the book what I call a “Me! Me!” read. His focus is on addressing what he sees as the issue, and his tone is not bitter or suggesting that, “If they had listened to me, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” (Believe me, I have read more than enough of them.)
I think the CIA started heading in that direction right after 9/11, but quickly got so caught up in the hunt for bin Laden and the counterterrorism mission that they let other traditional missions fall by the wayside. Now, in the wake of constant cyber-attacks and the recent massive government agency data breach, we have shifted at least some of our focus to the new threat. The past few years have also been focused on countering the new advances in biometrics and the threat to working in alias. For a glimpse of what change might look like, check out Jack Murphy’s take on the concept from a special-operations perspective in his series on revitalized Jedburgh teams. While you are at it, pick up “Beyond Repair,” then apply what you read to situations currently taking place around the world, and consider how a reborn OSS might play a role in them.